Don Mathis Headshot

I joined more than 800 members of the community who signed the petition at www.moveon.org to keep South Main Avenue open. What’s more, if there was a petition to reopen Main Plaza, I would sign that, too.

To keep a downtown alive, people need a way to get there. Hindering traffic is not the avenue to a vibrant downtown.

Main Avenue was once a major artery through the heart of San Antonio. Then portions of it were it closed and it essentially became a VIP amenity at the Bexar County Courthouse. The street dead-ends for county official parking. I know our esteemed members of the judiciary need a place to park, but let them hoof it just as those they call for jury duty.

Northbound South Main Avenue dead-ends into authorized parking for Bexar County and Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Northbound South Main Avenue dead-ends into authorized parking for Bexar County and Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

When Main Plaza was open to traffic, I didn’t mind a shut-down every now and then for the occasional festival. But now that it’s blocked, when surrounding streets are closed for pavement or utility repair, as South Alamo Street is now, traffic is snarled.

In Spanish, soledad means loneliness or solitude. Dolorosa means grief or sorrow. And I don’t think I am alone when I express my sorrow that I can’t drive by the intersection of Soledad and Dolorosa Streets anymore. Also, the northbound traveler on Dwyer Street must now detour several blocks east to Navarro Street.

I used to drive straight down South Main Avenue to attend worship at the Celebration Circle in the Jump Start Theater (home of the Reverend Rudi Harst). I had to change my route to dog-leg around to S. Flores Street and back again. Because of the traffic congestion, I now take the PanAm Expressway. There are others who avoid downtown altogether due to driving conditions.

View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.
View from the Majestic Tower Apt, looking East down Houston Street. Photo by Kara Gomez.

If Main Avenue was an artery, then Houston Street was a vein. But the city-inflicted vascular disease has clogged our blood vessels. About a dozen years ago, Houston Street was narrowed and sidewalks were widened. The one-way street became a two-way street, which caused additional blockage.

To make matters worse, none of the surrounding streets have been adapted to the closures and impediments of Main Avenue, Soledad and Houston streets. Now the city wants to close down another portion of Main Avenue and give it to a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I live on North Main Avenue and I am here to tell you, it is alive and well. My part of Main is undergoing a building boom.

Take a look north of downtown around San Antonio College and the Tobin Hill neighborhood. Main Street Pizza & Pasta recently reopened after a fire this summer. The first phase of Tobin Lofts, on-campus student housing, opened this fall. The complete renovation of Scobee Planetarium at San Antonio College is scheduled to open early next year. And the Locust Street Professional Building is nearing completion, too.

South Main would thrive just as well if the City would adopt a “hands-off” attitude as opposed to the city’s $1 million incentive payment to H-E-B to build a downtown grocery store. While the incentive was open for anyone to apply, H-E-B is now the likely recipient.

Most of us who have a stake in the outcome believe the proposed de facto trade-off of giving H-E-B the block of  S. Main Avenue between East Arsenal Street and East Cesar Chavez Boulevard in appreciation for a small urban grocery store is a bad deal.

[Read Robert Rivard’s perspective on allowing and extending the closure here. Read long-time resident Michael Nye’s piece on opposing the closure here.]

South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B's request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
South Main Avenue residents have placed signs on their lawns in protest of H-E-B’s request to close the street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

I know H-E-B has been a good neighbor. And they have received many tax breaks for the many contributions they have made. But there is no reason to treat this industry giant as if it were in need of welfare. We should keep in mind that H-E-B is such a good neighbor because we are such good customers. It is our money that H-E-B spends to benefit our community.

There are many other location options for the grocery store.

H-E-B could acquire the plot on the edge of Alamo College’s property on Sheridan Avenue. The block of Sheridan from S. Flores St. to S. Main Ave. could be closed for a huge grocery store – with plenty of parking.

What about that large empty lot at Flores and El Paso? It goes all the way to the Butter Krust Bakery. H-E-B could build a large store there and wouldn’t have to close any street at all. A drive in that neighborhood reveals many possible locations for a supermarket.

Empty lot at South Flores and El Paso Street which currently serves as overflow parking for Amols' party supply. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Empty lot at South Flores and El Paso Street which currently serves as overflow parking for Amols’ party supply. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Pedro Creek is an up and coming area, and H-E-B could lead the way to development along the restored waterway if it would build on any of the vacant lots surrounding this green belt. It would be convenient to I-10 traffic, too.

It would be short-sighted, indeed, if we closed off a block of S. Main Avenue and assigned the property to a private entity when a better resolution can be found just a few blocks away.

Don Mathis served as president of the Texoma Poetry Society in 2011 (a Sherman member of the Poetry Society of Texas). And in 2010, ‘Dionysus Don’ was crowned champion of the McKinney Poetry Slam. Don is very involved in the poetry community in Bexar County. He is a founding member of the San Antonio Poetry Fair and participates regularly with Sun Poets and La Taza writers’ group. His poetry has been published in anthologies, periodicals and has appeared on local TV and national radio. He currently works for St. Philip’s College.

Related Stories:

The Case For Keeping South Main Avenue Open

The Case for Rethinking South Main Avenue

H-E-B Briefs King William Neighbors on Expansion, Proposed Block Closure

The Feed: Two Guys Aim for Downtown Grocery Stores

Small Footprints, Big Impact: How to Make a Million Dollars Stretch across Center City

State of the Center City: More Housing, Fewer Vacant Buildings

No to Downtown Subsidies: The View from District 9 and Councilwoman Chan

Don Mathis

Don’s life revolves around the many poetry circles in San Antonio. His poems have been published in many anthologies and periodicals and broadcasted on local TV and national radio. In addition to poetry,...